World Heritage Site just Two Hours from AsakusaA trip to Nikko on a comfortable, limited express train to enjoy Japanese culture, nature and gourmet food2014.05.

During our first visit to Japan, we enjoyed seeing famous sites in Tokyo, including TOKYO SKYTREE®, Akihabara, and Nihonbashi, where you can experience a traditional Japanese atmosphere in the city center. To wrap up our trip, it was our plan to experience beautiful nature and to visit a World Heritage site. The site we chose was Nikko, which is two hours from Asakusa on a limited express train. Let us introduce the attractions we discovered in Nikko.

Limited Express "SPACIA"- smooth access from Asakusa and a fun experience

Our trip to Nikko begins at 8:40 a.m. It starts with the receipt of a ticket to Nikko called the "ALL NIKKO PASS" from the Tobu Sightseeing Service Center in Tobu Railway Asakusa Station. The ticket can be reserved online, and, since concierges who speak foreign languages are available, we can purchase our tickets without anxiety even though we cannot speak Japanese. Above all, the pass covers the train fare to the Nikko and Kinugawa area, unlimited bus rides within the area, and a great discount of 20% is also offered on the separately purchased limited express ticket. Our plan is to enjoy tea at stylish cafes and gourmet foods using the money we've saved. While giving us a map of the Nikko area along with our tickets, the female concierge tells us to "have a nice trip!" with a smile.
 
The limited express "SPACIA" bound for Kinugawa leaves on time at 9:00. The train has roomy cabins and is designed for a smooth, stable ride, with almost no vibration or noise. Each seat has a large head rest and enough room to stretch the legs, letting passengers feel relaxed. As we chat with each other in a relaxed mood, a food service wagon comes around. In SPACIA, four kinds of coffees are brewed inside the train and served on a rotational basis.
 
SPACIA also has compartments with extra-large windows and even roomier seats in its rear-most Car 6. If we purchase a discount pass, we can also receive 20% off the compartment charge. We decide to use the compartment next time, when we bring our parents to Nikko.
 
Tobu Sightseeing Service Center (in Tobu Railway Asakusa Station)
Address: 1-4-1 Hanakawado, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3841-2871
Open hours: 7:45 to 17:00 (Holidays: December 30 to January 3)
Access: Tobu Asakusa Station Central Exist


 

A World Heritage site in Nikko of overwhelming scale, beauty and presence

We'd heard that we would be close to Nikko once we started seeing the Cedar Avenue of Nikko, which is listed in the Guinness Book as the longest tree-lined avenue in the world, from the train window, and it's true. We transfer at Shimo-Imaichi Station and head for Nikko. As we admire the grove stretching out in a straight line, the train arrives at Tobu Nikko Station. Since Nikko is a highland located north of Tokyo, spring or the season of new green leaves arrives about a month later than it does in Tokyo. In late May in Nikko, the tree leaves are very fresh and bright.
 
The shrines and temples of Nikko, which are collectively registered as a World Heritage site, consist of two shrines and one temple - Toshogu Shrine, Rin-noji Temple, and Futarasan Shrine. Once we get on the World Heritage Bus in front of the station, we arrive at the Shinkyo Bridge, which is the entrance to the shrines and temples of Nikko, in less than six minutes. Since even a slow walk from the station only takes about 20 minutes, the World Heritage Site really is only two hours away from Tokyo!
 
Toshogu Shrine enshrines Ieyasu Tokugawa, the Shogun who established the Edo Shogunate. Rin-noji Temple maintains a higher status among the temples of Tendai, which is a Buddhist sect. Futarasan Shrine has been worshipped by the people of the area for over 1,200 years. Walking around and visiting temples and shrines that are listed as a World Heritage, with their varying histories and backgrounds, is a very precious experience. Although the Yomeimon Gate of Toshogu, famed for its gorgeous beauty, is under repair until 2018, you can see the wall paintings that are being shown to the public for the first time in 217. In addition, structures such as the Karamon Gate, for which repair work has been completed, and the Five Storied Pagoda, which is supported by a central pillar that provides it with the same earthquake-proof structure as that of TOKYO SKY TREE®, have stately appearances that create a feeling of deep culture.
 
True to their reputations, other sights in this area are also worth seeing, including the humorous carving called the "Three Monkeys," which is said to have been created by a legendary artist. These Three Monkeys make up part of a series of panels depicting the human life cycle using monkeys, and teaches the lesson that a man should "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil" when he is a child.
 
Another sight that impresses us is the approach that connects three shrines and temples. Both sides of the spacious approach are lined with giant cedar trees standing on low stone walls, as if quietly observing humans. Each tree is very tall, and it would take three adults holding hands to encircle one of their trunks. The holy atmosphere befitting a sacred area naturally fills our hearts with awe.
 
The main deity enshrined in the Futarasan Shrine is a god of marriage. It's perfectly alright to visit the shrine as friends rather than a couple, so we try votive picture tablets called "Ema" (a plate with a picture on which wishes to a god are written) with a cute heart motif.
 
We have "yuba soba" (buckwheat noodles with bean curd skin), which is a specialty dish we'd heard about on a Nikko area tourist information website, in a restaurant located at the foot of the Shinkyo Bridge. Yuba (bean curd skin) is a processed soybean product produced by skimming off the film that forms when soy milk is heated using a bamboo skewer or other tools. It is one of ingredients used in traditional Japanese dishes. Yuba in Nikko is characterized by its shape, which is tightly-rolled by skilled artisans. The yuba in our soba noodles is soft and delicious, absorbing the flavor of the soup.
 
Nikko Toshogu Shrine
Address: 2301 Sannai, Nikko-shi, Tochigi
Access: Approx. 10 minutes by World Heritage Bus from Tobu Nikko Station
Open hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (April through October), 8:00 to 16:00 (November through March) 
Reception closes 30 minutes before the gate is closed.
Telephone: 0288-54-0560


 
Nikkozan Rinnoji Temple
Address: 2300 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi
Access: Approx. 10 minutes by World Heritage Bus from Tobu Nikko Station
Open hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (April through October), 8:00 to 16:00 (November through March)
Telephone: 0288-54-0531


 
Nikko Futarasan Shrine
Address: 2307 Sannai, Nikko, Tochigi
Access: Approx. 10 minutes by World Heritage Bus from Tobu Nikko Station
Open hours: 8:00 to 17:00 (April through October), 8:00 to 16:00 (November through March)
Telephone: 0288-54-0535


 

Making plans for tomorrow while enjoying flowers, sweets, and hot springs

After lunch, we take another bus to Lake Chuzenji. The bus follows the Irohazaka Route, which rises approximately 800 meters from Tobu Nikko Station and has at least 20 curves on the ride up alone. Each time the bus goes round a curve, it is obvious that the altitude has increased. The view we have when the bus reaches the peak of a curve is spectacular, particularly the trees and flowers. Light pink azaleas that look like cherry blossoms from far away and white azaleas appear inside and outside of the shadows of the broad-leaved trees. We hear that the Irohazaka Route is also beautiful in fall, when it is filled with autumn colors. We hope to return and see the autumn scenery.
 
At 1,200 meters, Lake Chuzenji has the highest altitude of any lake in Japan and it features good clarity. When we get off the bus, we feel a brisk breeze blow along the lakeside. The average temperature in this area is about 20°C, even in summer. Even in Nikko, which is called a "natural refrigerator," the area near Lake Chuzenji is especially comfortable in summer.
 
Because of this climate and the beautiful lakeside scenery, several vacation homes that belong to the embassies of countries including the UK and France are found near the lake. One such vacation home, belonging to the Embassy of Italy, has been turned into a park that we can tour. The building was designed by the American architect Antonin Raymond over 80 years ago and has a unique exterior made of cedar bark and bamboo. Although western, the building has a somewhat Japanese atmosphere, likely due to its materials.
 
We stop for tea at the Nikko Lakeside Hotel, a well-established hotel by Lake Chuzenji that is over 120 years old. Many cafes in Nikko serve cheesecake as their specialty, and each place has a unique type. For example, the Nikko Kanaya Hotel serves cinnamon-flavored cheesecake and the Nikko Lakeside Hotel serves cheesecake with raisins. Richly-flavored coffee goes perfectly with cheesecake that has just the right amount of sweetness.
 
In Nikko, there are many Western and Japanese style accommodations that can care for the needs of non-Japanese customers. Today, we choose the Nikko Lakeside Hotel. We like the hotel not only because of its nice atmosphere but because it has a reserved bath, which allows us to enjoy bathing without anxiety. We plan to enjoy a gourmet dinner using local ingredients tonight. There are many waterfalls in Nikko, including Kirifuri Waterfall and Yutaki Waterfall. Tomorrow, we plan to see Kegon Falls, where the water of Lake Chuzenji cascades down a 97 meter-high stone wall, and then to enjoy an entertainment park and a hot spring in Kinugawa. SPACIA, which brought us from Tokyo to this wonderful world in only two hours, will continue to be our travel partner tomorrow as well.
 
Italian Embassy House Memorial Park
Address: 2482 Chugushi, Nikko, Tochigi
Access: From Tobu Nikko Station, take a bus bound for Chuzenji Onsen and get off at the last stop, and then walk approximately 30 minutes
Telephone: 0288-55-0388
 
Nikko Lakeside Hotel
Address: 2482 Chugushi, Nikko-shi, Tochigi
Access: From Tobu Nikko Station, take a bus bound for Yumoto Onsen or Chuzenji Onsen, get off at Chuzenji Onsen bus stop, and then walk approximately three minutes
Telephone: 0288-55-0321


 

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